LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels twice left Kyle Field during Saturday’s 38-23 setback against Texas A&M with injuries, only to return to action each time.
His prognosis for this week’s SEC Championship Game looks promising when the No. 11 Tigers (9-3) face No. 1 Georgia (12-0) at 3 p.m.
LSU football coach Brian Kelly said during his postgame news conference Daniels suffered an ankle injury but returned to play. He also took a hard shot on the side of his knee earlier in the game on a scramble, stayed down on the ground for a while but left the field under his own power.
During a teleconference in advance of the SEC title game, Kelly said Daniels wore a protective boot Sunday and will do so until Monday.
“His exam was good today,” Kelly said of Daniels. “And you know we’re pretty optimistic about his ability to practice on Tuesday. So, it wasn’t a high ankle sprain. Those are the things you should concern yourself with because that’s going to limit his mobility and he’s going to need to have obviously have all of his mobility and more. The early indications look pretty good. So, we’ll have a better understanding tomorrow, but the report was good today. And we’ll take it from there.”
Daniels totaled 273 of LSU’s 384 offensive yards but for only the third time this season didn’t account for any of LSU’s touchdowns. That distinction went to running back John Emery Jr. who overcame two fumbles in last week’s 41-10 win over UAB with a career-high three rushing touchdowns and wound up with 55 yards on nine carries.
Emery and Noah Cain had an expanded role at running back because the team’s leading rusher from the running back position, Josh Williams, was dressed in uniform but did not play.
Williams, who suffered a sprained knee in the Arkansas game, may be able to play against Georgia.
“Josh looked good,” Kelly said. “We’re obviously very conservative with him in making sure that we got him at what we considered full 100%. He’s the kind of runner that needs that. I think we feel all very good that he’s going to be able to be part of the game plan this weekend.”
Here’s what else Kelly had to say:
“Well, it’s been certainly exciting. We’ve had certainly some bumps in the road. But we’ve had some great achievements in developing our program here in the first year, and our football team has gotten better as the season has gone along. Certainly, we’ve learned a lot about how to prepare the right way and how to take care of ourselves in the SEC West. Week to week, you have to bring your best and we found that out this weekend. But I’m proud of our accomplishment and really excited about playing in the SEC Championship Game. It’s obviously the standard in terms of title games and being able to face the No. 1 in the country and defending national champs Georgia. (Coach) Kirby Smart and his staff and his players, is a great challenge, but one that we’re excited about, and we want to be able to represent the SEC West and certainly play to our standards. And look forward to doing that.”
Did you expect your program to reach this stage in Year One?
“We didn’t have a board in our team room that said, SEC West Championship. Our board was about a standard and getting to that standard, building better habits. How we thought, how we prepared so it was much more about a process than it was for any particular goals. I’d be lying to tell you that was one of them or wasn’t one of them because it really wasn’t even part of our thought process. It was really about getting our guys to live to a standard that we’ve set within the program and that’s generally what most coaches are looking at in Year One. You’re not thinking about outcomes quite as much.”
Do your recent Notre Dame-Georgia matchups help with your preparations this week?
“I know what you’re going to get. Kirby’s (Smart) still the head coach, they’re gonna be disciplined. They’re going to be physical. There’s new coordinators, but you know, the kind of system that you’re going to get, the preparation, the discipline, all those things are going to be part of Coach Smart’s team. So, all those things are going to be the same, but the personnel is different. The coordinators, the schemes are a little bit different. But one thing they haven’t lacked is in recruiting. They’ve got outstanding personnel and really good players that will have to prepare for.”
On the play of John Emery against Texas A&M?
“Yeah, I think he needed it. I think he needed it for himself. I think that obviously he took it hard last week (two fumbles against UAB), the week before and not taking care of the football. (Running backs) Coach (Frank) Wilson does a great job of making sure that those guys understand how important it is. So, it was great to see him come back this week with a career-best three rushing touchdown, a really nice way to respond from some adversity and this game gives you the opportunity for and it was good to see it.”
On what you saw from the A&M game?
“I think characteristically we’ve played with traits over talent all year and some of those traits were not there as much as playing smart. Having a great attention to detail. Some of the focus that’s necessary, for some reason those things weren’t in place, and we have to play with those traits. We have talent, and our talent has to show as well, but the real success of this team has been the ability to rely on traits and talent and some of those traits were not there for whatever reason, and the players know. They took it hard after the game, they care. They really want to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. We can get beat, but we don’t want to be beat with not bringing our very best and unfortunately, it’s one of those lessons to be learned in terms of how you need to prepare each and every week. And again, I think our team understands that.”
On Georgia’s tight end depth?
“Darnell Washington is a large person, Six-seven, there’s nobody that really has a favorable matchup against them. And then you know, (Brett) Bowers, at least in terms of receptions. Lombardi award finalists. Coach (Todd) Monken gets him involved in everything from handoff sweeps to, I don’t know if he’s thrown the ball yet, but I’m sure he will. He’s just a versatile player and he’s a guy that can break open games. As talented and as productive a tandem that you’ll see.”
On A&M’s success in the running game?
“You know part of a standard in terms of play is about doing your job and there are times when whatever the circumstances are you’re not as focused. Your attention to detail is not where it needs to be. And Texas A&M played well. (Devon) Achane is an outstanding back and he’s difficult to corral, he made some great runs. But the traits that I mentioned that we bring with our team, we’re not as prevalent for some reason, and it’s my job to make sure that they bring them each and every week because our margin (for error) is not great. We can’t overcome not bringing our traits and talents. We didn’t bring some of the traits that are necessary for us to be the kind of defense, and the kind of offense that we want to be consistently from week to week.”
On play of freshman Harold Perkins Jr.
“He’s very, very talented. But like I said it’s both. He’s got to bring his traits and talent together. If he brings both of those, he is an elite and special player.”
On working with current Georgia OC Todd Monken at Grand Valley State?
“I’ve known Todd for several years. I think it’s going on close to 30 year. Wherever he’s been, he’s been successful. He’s got a great offensive mind. He comes from a family that’s been involved in football, the entire family and he’s been around the game. He just knows the game, whether he’s been in college as a head coach at Southern Mississippi, working in the NFL. He just knows the game. He relates well to his players. Outstanding play-caller. And I don’t know that anything at the time that I was with him at Grand Valley wore off on him. I think despite the time we were together; he’s overcome all that (laughter). Just great experience and does a great job.”
On the impact Monken has had on quarterback Stetson Bennett?
“Yeah, remarkable. I mean, he’s as poised. The confidence on film in terms of what he exudes is amazing. I think he’s like 26-3 as a starter. He’s in full command of the offense, full command. That that goes to his coaching, his teaching, his preparation obviously. It’s apparent in watching him how confident he is as the quarterback.”
Any leaders stepped up after Saturday’s game?
“Well, our locker room was very disappointed. They care. That’s the first thing that you want to see that it hurts. They’ve invested so much. I think there’s more than just one or two guys. I think there is a core of players in that locker room that were visibly upset about the performance and certainly the outcome. I don’t know that I could single out one particular guy. I think our captains have been great all year. I think Mike Jones has been great. You could see he was out there representing our defense in the press conference. Guys like that really understand the day-to-day and what we go through are generally the people that we put out front. But there’s more than just one. We have a lot of guys that understand our process. They were very disappointed. When they came in today for treatment, it was still the same feeling. But now we’ve flushed it away, and we’ve got to get ready for the No. 1 team in the country.”
On recovery of defensive tackle Maason Smith?
“He’s doing well. He’s obviously focused on his academics and his rehabilitation. He’s had no setbacks. We expect him to be ready for our off-season program and progressing into spring ball. We’ll be excited to see him get back.”
On the challenges Georgia’s defense presents?
“First of all, the scheme is outstanding. They mix it up three down and four down. They do a really good job of when you get to the third down, they’re going to give you a variety of looks. But obviously Beal and Carter, outstanding D-lineman. I think Dumas-Johnson is Butkus Award finalist, an outstanding player. The back end is young and athletic, really good ball skills. Coach Smart obviously has his hand on everything that happens in this role, but in particular on defense. You can see that. I’m familiar with their defensive structure having gone against them a few times. They continue to get better each and every week.”
On the biggest impact former Georgia assistant coach Cortez Hankton has made at LSU?
“First and foremost in the passing game. He’s intimately involved in what we do in the passing game. I think he’s done a really good job with implementing that into what we do on a day-to-day basis, as well as developing relationships with our current players and in recruiting. He’s from the state of Louisiana. He’s back home, so to speak. He’s from New Orleans. He’s going to be a great asset in our recruiting as we get underway in earnest over the next couple of weeks.”
On your previous experience in the ACC Championship game having more of playoff feel?
“No, I don’t think it felt like a playoff. The Playoffs are so unique and so different in the venues that they’re in. I think the championship felt different than a regular-season game, but it didn’t feel like a playoff. I think this SEC championship in Atlanta is going to have feel a little bit closer to that. But I think I think that’s kind of what we’re expecting. Getting to an SEC championship game is going to have a different feel than any other game that I’ve been in, so it will be exciting.”
On thoughts on start of expanded College Football Playoff system?
“I’m not really that concerned about it. I think the conference championships still held in such a high regard in college football and how they’re perceived. I think particularly the SEC Championship Game, I think of that is such a big game and celebrated, that I just think that’s always going to carry on its place in college football.”
Any idea when it should start?
“I don’t know that I have a particular date. I would like to see expanded if they think that they can bring it all together. Because the more the better for me, in terms of playoffs.”